This is the 43rd movie in our Disney Animated Feature Marathon, and the first one I hadn’t seen yet. I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I had been under the impression that it was an attempt by the folks at Disney to be hip, and in my experience Disney doesn’t do hip very well. Turns out I was wrong. Four years before Shrek worked hundreds of contemporary references into a fairy tale, Hercules had done it already. This is a kinetic—without being hyperkinetic—funny, wonderfully imagined and animated, satirical take on Greek mythology that slips in dozens of references to other movies and lampoons our culture of celebrity and exploitation. If it fails to get you too emotionally involved, that’s okay, too. This one is purely for fun, though the story about growing up and proving yourself isn’t really all that bad. It is narrated by a real Greek chorus of five ladies who come to life from Grecian urns and sing gospel and R&B (okay, they stole that from Little Shop of Horrors, but it’s done very well), and even pokes fun at earlier Disney movies, because it starts off with Charlton Heston solemnly intoning the introduction, a la Beauty and the Beast, before the spirited ladies shove him aside and start to boogie. (It’s funny how anachronistic music works so well here and so disastrously with Roger Miller’s country tunes in Robin Hood.) Danny DeVito is very good as a satyr, but just as Robin Williams owned Aladdin, James Woods totally steals the show as Hades, a guy whose head is always on fire and who talks like a demented used car salesman. Like Williams, he improvised a lot of dialogue. It’s really a great performance, and a great animation.
Many of the deities of Greek mythology are present, such as the three-headed dog, Cerberus, and a little of it is even accurate. In myth Heracles had to perform twelve labors, and we see a few of these. About half of them involve standard heroic things such as killing or capturing creatures like the Nemean lion or the Hydra, which grew two new heads for every one you cut off. But some labors were more prosaic, and the one that I’ve always thought was interesting was cleaning out the Augean stables. When I heard of it, I thought, Are you serious? Yep. The stables were the home to divine cattle that never got sick, and they pooped like crazy. They hadn’t been mucked out in 30 years. Oh, and he had to do it in one day. That was real heroism. Wouldn’t that have made a nice scene here? No? I guess not. Let’s not even get into all the people he killed, including the two children borne to him by the love interest of this film, Megara, his four marriages, or his bisexuality …
Cranks who hated it: The Greeks. Reason: Foreigners distorting our history and culture.